California Universities Eliminate Athletic Teams to Save Money

College athletic teams at many of the institutions in the state of California’s higher education system are being eliminated or are proposed to be cut, according to a recent report published by The Sacramento Bee. After years of growth in the number of teams schools offer and the amount they spend on athletics, public universities are confronting an economic downturn that has crippled state government and made it harder to get corporate sponsorships and private donations. The result, at many campuses, is that schools are dropping teams that aren’t necessary to compete in their conference.

“Those of us looking at the data have been saying this moment is going to happen,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “The moment happened much more quickly because of the deteriorating economic environment.”

As coaches’ salaries grow and schools spend more on athletic scholarships to keep up with rising tuition, spending on sports has increased more than spending on academics at many colleges, according to a Knight Commission report.

The report also says it’s a myth that football and basketball are money-makers for most colleges. The reality, Perko said, is “there are just a handful of schools that generate enough revenue from the athletics to make a donation back to the university for the educational mission.”

The Chancellor at the University of California (UC) – Berkeley recently appointed a special council to recommend whether any teams should be eliminated, with a decision expected this summer. Teams have been eliminated at several other institutions in the UC and California State University system, including:

  • UC Davis: Eliminating women’s rowing and men’s wrestling, swimming/diving and indoor track at the end of this school year.
  • UC Irvine: Eliminated sailing, men’s and women’s swimming and men’s and women’s rowing in August.
  • UC Santa Cruz: Eliminated men’s and women’s water polo in 2009.
  • Cal State Bakersfield: Eliminating wrestling, men’s and women’s golf and women’s tennis unless private funds can be raised by the end of next month.
  • Cal State Fullerton: Eliminating wrestling and gymnastics at the end of this school year unless private funds can be raised.
  • Cal State Northridge: Eliminating men’s and women’s swimming/diving at the end of this school year.
  • Cal Poly Pomona: Eliminating men’s and women’s tennis at the end of this school year.

“For the future, what I anticipate is that there will be fewer and fewer colleges that can support a very large intercollegiate athletic program that offers numerous sports,” said Greg Warczeka, athletic director at UC Davis.

At UC Davis, the elimination of four teams will save $2.9 million over the next three years and should bring the athletic department to fiscal solvency by 2013-14, according to Chancellor Linda Katehi. This year, UC Davis spent $6 million to subsidize its athletics department, while the institution raised student fees 32 percent, required furloughs for employees, and imposed cuts to library hours and course offerings.

Stated Katehi: “Successful continuance of a sport requires reliable and sustainable funding. Leaving the viability of these programs subject to the year-to-year success of various fundraising efforts is not, in my view, a responsible approach.”

However, student-athletes whose teams have been eliminated, raised objections. Mott Herman, a 20-year-old UC Davis swimmer, said Katehi’s decision is shortsighted. “Once a team is cut, it never comes back,” he told the Bee. “And it’s not like California is going to be in this bad spot forever.”